They were top notch in every aspect. Always making eye contact with you from maintenance up to the cruise director -- they always spoke to us when passing. This may not be a big deal to some, but it is a big deal to me. In the U.S. you have so many people in a service industry that absolutely do not look at you when they speak to you and we have just accepted it as the norm. Well it's not and shouldn't be. On IOS we felt like royalty. Here's a quick breakdown from start to finish of our travels.
Departed Atlanta (close proximity) Saturday, 12/15 for our 10 hour drive to Fort Lauderdale. I was dreading the drive, but for 6 it was the economical option. The drive surprisingly went by faster than I had thought. We took I-75 south all the way to the Florida turnpike and stayed on it all the way to FLL. The toll costs were just under $20. We arrived at The Rodeway Inn at the Port. Yes, I said The Rodeway Inn! I picked it because it was free parking all week and free shuttle to the Port. I had no desire to stay at a fancy hotel when all I needed was a clean place to lay my head. I got exactly that. It was old and reminded me of beach "motels" I had stayed at when I was younger. The restaurant there was good (burgers and such), a little pricier than I had expected, but served its purpose. All in all I got what I had paid for and that was only $115 (incl. tax) per room with the free shuttle and parking. Izzy, the manager was great and guaranteed we would be eating lunch on the ship by noon and we were! A win-win I believe and yes I will stay there again.
Embarkation went smoothly and I thought pretty fast. Since we were there fairly early we really didn't have long lines to wait through, we just waited a little for them to open and begin the process. It was smooth even with a few computer glitches. I don't have another experience to compare it with, but I'm sure this would have been considered quick and smooth. We were walking around taking pictures on the ship before noon and eating at the Windjammer at noon.
From the moment we boarded the ship until the sad moment we disembarked, we were treated like royalty. Seriously. The personal attention is so refreshing. I can go on and on about specifics, but let me just leave it with this, I will never take the usual vacation again, never. We do that every year, and while we have always enjoyed our vacations to the beach, NOTHING can compare with a cruise vacation on Royal Caribbean. This is the only way to vacation!!! Everything done for you, by people that actually appeared to love there job. It was wonderful!!!
We walked around Grand Cayman and shopped a little, then took a taxi to the Royal Palms and enjoyed the beach and water there. A bucket of beer (5) was $37 US. That was shocking! It was a local brew, and ok, I guess. I would have liked to see more of Grand Cayman, but the traffic was so bad that we might have missed the ship, and that was NOT going to happen on my watch!!
On to Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We booked a tour with Courtney Taylor Tours. I had seen good review on Trip Adviser and they were right. Our driver was Marvelous Marvin and he was simply MARVELOUS! If you are planning to go to Dunns River Falls, reconsider! We went to the Irie Blue Hole and felt like we had stumbled upon an untouched gem! It is MAGNIFICENT! No crowds like Dunns River and as much, if not more spectacular! You can see pictures of it on google and videos on youtube. You will be glad you found it. We also toured the country side from the poorest areas to their "Beverly Hills". Startling the contrast. We asked Marvin to take us were the locals shopped, not the tourist areas and he did. He took us to what he called a free market. It was something to see. He stayed right with us and we never felt fearful. They sold everything there. We sampled local fresh fruit, mango's, soursop, and jackfruit. The soursop was an unusual texture but delicious tasting. Our day with Marvin and Courtney Taylor Tours was the highlight of all three of our port experiences. He told us so much about the country and his life that we left feeling like we had just gained a friend. We even exchanged addresses and are planning to send him some things from the US that he can't get or are just too expensive for him there. Jamaica is expensive, which I didn't realize before seeing it. Marvin wants to move to the US and has tried but been denied. He said you must have strong ties in Jamaica to get approved. Own land, have lots of money and family there. He has the family, but not the land or money. He said he will keep trying because he wants his daughter to have a better life. Marvin said he wishes they had never won their independence from England back in 1962 as he felt they would be better off now under British rule. I hope he gets the chance to fulfill his dreams one day.
Labadee was beautiful. The country of Haiti is beautiful, and hard to imagine that just on the other side from where we were docked is so much poverty. I read that RCI pays $6 per person to the Haitian government, so that is money coming into the country that otherwise would not. I spoke with a young man, Gui, who's position was beach patrol. He lived in Labadee Village which you could see from where we were, but was a 15 minute water taxi ride. They have no cars, but travel to the nearest store (1 hour away) by taxi. I asked him if he liked us being there or felt resentment. He said he likes it very much, because that is the only time he makes any money, when the ships are there. He doesn't have to pay for electricity or water, the government provides it but that he only makes $27 per day and that is ONLY when a ship is there. He said he would like to leave and come to the US, but he has to own land or have lots of money before he could ever leave. He didn't feel like he would ever get the chance. He talked about the government corruption there and also that it is not the unsafe place that we hear about. Poor, yes, but unsafe only in certain areas especially during political elections. It is a beautiful country and we all wished we could leave Labadee and see the real Haiti. Gui said if we could ever come back and fly into Port-Au-Prince he would pick us up (8 hours from his home) and show us his country. Not sure who's vehicle he would use, but he said he would be there. Maybe someday. We exchanged address and hope to someday see him again.
I have seen negative reviews about IOS and honestly I've come to the conclusion that some people can never be truly pleased; they are always going to have something negative to say about everything. Well, I will say I am not one of those people. I appreciate things in life, even small things like people looking eye to eye at me while speaking. I appreciate the opportunity I had to go on this cruise with my family and want to share my experience with you. I tried and tried to find something critical about the IOS and other than one soup I had that tasted too fishy to me I simply CAN NOT think of anything negative. It was the most wonderful vacation we have ever taken and can not wait to do it again. It will be RCI, because why mess with a good thing!!